Cancer cells become less deformable and more invasive with activation of β-adrenergic signaling.
Here we detail the design, fabrication, and use of a microfluidic device to evaluate the deformability of a large number of individual cells in an efficient manner. Typically, data for ~10(2) cells can be acquired within a 1 hr experiment. An automated image analysis program enables efficient post-experiment analysis of image data, enabling processing to be complete within a few hours. Our device geometry is unique in that cells must deform through a series of micron-scale constrictions, thereby enabling the initial deformation and time-dependent relaxation of individual cells to be assayed. The applicability of this method to human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cells is demonstrated. Driving cells to deform through micron-scale constrictions using pressure-driven flow, we observe that human promyelocytic (HL-60) cells momentarily occlude the first constriction for a median time of 9.3 msec before passaging more quickly through the subsequent constrictions with a median transit time of 4.0 msec per constriction. By contrast, all-trans retinoic acid-treated (neutrophil-type) HL-60 cells occlude the first constriction for only 4.3 msec before passaging through the subsequent constrictions with a median transit time of 3.3 msec. This method can provide insight into the viscoelastic nature of cells, and ultimately reveal the molecular origins of this behavior.